iPhone 5 and Apple Event Thoughts

I think the biggest improvements are the aluminum back and sapphire lens for the camera. No more scratched up backs means that people with case free iPhones can sleep a little easier. The bigger screen, improved battery life, and LTE (faster mobile Internet) were expected improvements. The new earpods earbuds seem neat and I will probably buy a pair to review them. The new lightning connector was also expected but means that you will have to buy all new accessories or a bunch of those little dock adapters. Many of the rest of the improvements are in iOS 6 so iPhone 4S users will be able to enjoy important things like enhanced Siri functionality. My recommendation is if you have a phone upgrade to buy the iPhone 5. Power users should obviously get the 32GB or 64GB models. If you already got the 4S and do not have an upgrade this year, then you will not miss a whole lot while waiting for the iPhone 5S/6 to arrive next year.

The new iPod nano is nifty. I’m not sure if I like the new form factor better than the old one. I think that I would take this as a good opportunity to snap up the last generation iPod nano at reduced prices if you are considering it.

The new iPod touch is also neat. Apple seems to be aggressively courting the point and shoot camera market and also the game console market. As an iPhone user I have little interest in carrying another device for my iPod. However if you have an Android or dumbphone and want to be able to use iOS apps then the new iPod touch is worth the buy.

The 9-11 Generation

Eleven years later they do not call us that. In some countries they erect one monument to tragedy; in America we erected monuments in every airport. Scanners and x-ray machines that stand as a constant reminder of the attack. Our remembrance ritual involves removing our shoes and emptying our luggage. We gave-up rights, toppled a regime, and chased Osama Bin Laden to the far corners of the Earth to exact revenge. Yet they still don’t call us the 9-11 generation. It’s not because we are free, but because we are not scared anymore.

Despite this we have grown-up in the shadow of this tragedy without growing out of it. Eleven years later the liberties we gave-up to allow the government to fight terror are still gone. Our warriors still roam Afghanistan. We still speak of fighting the war on terror without any sense of when we might win it. We achieved important victories without much reflection on whether it might be time to move on from security theater in airports or strengthening due process protections. To our credit we got out of Iraq and will soon be out of Afghanistan but we still have to think about how we want to live. Do we need the security blanket of getting everything x-rayed and body scanned before we go on an airplane?

The fear does not linger, but these monuments do. In eleven years our world has changed. We have changed. Soon we will be out of Afghanistan. It seems our intelligence and military services are so effective that the operations of the terrorist organizations across the world have been severely hampered if not eliminated. We have not suffered an attack on the homeland in many years. Justified or not, I feel safer; I feel ready to move on.

How to Make Door Knocking More Effective

I have been knocking doors for political candidates since high school. Most people are probably familiar with this method of campaigning by now. You go to a door, introduce yourself, and talk with the person who answers about your candidacy (or the candidacy of the person you are supporting) and ask them to support you. Maybe you give them a sheet of paper with literature about the candidate or offer them an absentee ballot. Other than that, you probably will not talk to or hear from this person until Election Day. Campaigns use this model because it works, but I also think it is broken.

Door knocking is a high engagement activity with low long-term returns or follow-up. People that are marked as supporters are typically just put into the voter file to be contacted to remind them to vote at the end of the election. However the political parties, from what I have seen, are not leveraging this data to engage in party building activity. If I was in charge of a political party or managing a campaign then the people who are marked as 1s would get invitations to attend a Democratic Town Committee meeting or a small-dollar fundraiser associated with the candidate. I would also attempt to match them up with a person in the party from a similar background to check-in with them and help them understand other ways they can get involved.

Also I think it is important to note that the segmentation and coordination among campaigns and canvassing is terrible. In theory the entire party has a database it shares from NGP VAN but in practice each campaign and party apparatus uses only its own data and does not cross-reference its data with other campaigns. This means that for each race each voter might potentially be contacted by every single candidate running for office from President to dog-catcher. This can be irritating to the voter but also involves a large amount of work replication by the individual campaign organizations. In recent years I have seen some effort to coordinate knocking and IDs but nothing sophisticated. I think the new website to allow voters to ID themselves as supporters by the Obama campaign is also a neat shortcut to help them avoid doing unnecessary calling. If the Connecticut Democratic Party implemented a comprehensive data sharing and analysis program it could probably get a lot more mileage out of its current data and maybe irritate the voters less.

How would you improve political outreach and door-knocking? Would you like it if campaigns let you identify yourself as a supporter (or non-supporter) on a website so that you are not called by them?

Bruce Springsteen SXSW Keynote from 2012

Sometimes it is easier to unearth a hidden gem from an obscure website than to write a full post. As a fan of Bruce Springsteen I found this keynote address to be a fun listen.

The Decline of Journalism?

I am a news junkie. My main sources of information are the New York Times (I subscribe), Wall Street Journal, NPR, and Hartford Courant, and CT News Junkie. I supplement that with news from my twitter and Facebook feeds. Among these sources the only one I pay for is the New York Times and I have a subscription to Wired magazine. The rest of these are free online. As a consumer this makes me happy because it saves me money and I get to enjoy these products without cost. Yet I think it may be destroying journalism.

Collecting the news and posting it online is not free. I pay a yearly fee to host this blog on a service that is reliable and does not serve advertisements. The underlying content system is free since it is open source. I suppose I could choose to host it on the Wordpress.com website and save money but I enjoy having the ability to use the web server for other purposes and to learn the underlying technologies. It also takes time and effort to write the posts. In a professional news organization where they spend time and effort conducting research and interviews it is easy to see how these free websites get expensive for the creators.

Today there seems to be two ways to pay for news: advertising and subscriptions. The New York Times is demonstrating that subscriptions are just as important as advertising in the web age. I am inclined to agree. I think making people pony up some money for their news increases their commitment to the organization. Their model of providing some free content and then charging for extra seems to be effective. I also think there is some merit to charging micro-payments for access to old articles. My prediction is that most of the free news sites will eventually shut down or convert to the paid model.

What happens if they do not? We already have seen the size of physical newspapers like the Hartford Courant shrink. News staffs are shrinking across the country and the quality of the news at many operations is in a decline. Large organizations like New Yorker and New York Times are bucking this trend. The non-profit CT Mirror is also doing good work. The Hartford Courant website is terrible but they put up some good blogs and many of their journalists are interesting to follow on twitter. As the news consuming demographic switches to digital first consumption the newspapers will have to move with them. If they move and they are able to show that they provide high quality product then they will get subscribers and be able to compete with the New York Times and other operations like it. Otherwise we will eventually lose them.

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